Hepatitis A (HAV) is a virus that can cause liver disease. The virus is most commonly spread through close contact. It can also be spread by eating or drinking HAV-contaminated food or water. The hepatitis A (HepA) vaccine is recommended for all children at age 1.
HAV can easily be passed between family members. It can also be transmitted sexually and through contaminated food. Up to 20 percent of people with HAV will need hospitalization.
Vaccination is a safe, effective way to prevent HAV. The people advised to get the HepA vaccine include:
- all children at age 1
- anyone (including infants and children) traveling to countries with high rates of HepA
- children and adolescents living in areas with a high risk of HepA
- people who use street drugs
- men who have sex with men
- people with chronic liver disease
- people who work with HAV-infected primates
- people who work with HAV in laboratories
- people who use clotting factors
Vaccination requires two doses, at least six months apart. For children, the first dose should be given between 12 and 23 months of age. For others, vaccination can be done at any time.
People traveling to areas with HAV should start the vaccine series at least one month before leaving.
The HepA vaccine is very safe. However, there are a few groups of people who should not be vaccinated. These include people with:
- past severe reactions to HepA vaccine
- allergies to vaccine component
- current moderate to severe illnesses
Pregnant women should wait for vaccination, if possible. However, HepA vaccination is not known to put the fetus at risk.
If you are being vaccinated as an adult, you may want to be screened for previous exposure to HAV. Tests can look for antibodies against the virus in your blood. If you have such antibodies, you may not need the HepA vaccine. However, it’s not dangerous to get the vaccine if you are already immune.
Severe side effects from the HepA vaccine are extremely rare. However, more mild side effects are common. These include:
- soreness where the shot was given
- loss of appetite
These problems usually go away in a few days.